Tag Archives: news

Get your Instant News in The Daily Snap

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Estimated reading time 3–5 minutes

I haven’t been writing much recently, because I have been very busy getting a couple of StartUp projects off the ground. Building tech from scratch is very different from what I have usually done during my career, which is work with large and mature systems.

Early days

It has been a real adventure and we have had lots of twists and turns along the way. We started off rising to a challenge set by the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) – the financial regulator of Quebec. They sponsored the FinTech Formathon and gave us a 3-month salaried runway to get the project off the ground at Concordia University’s District 3. The main issue their analysts and researchers have with existing news services is that they don’t do enough to avoid serving up the same story – albeit often in a slightly different form – over and over again. For a busy researcher, reading the same thing twice is very annoying – a problem that “churnalism” or “copy paste” journalism has exacerbated. Our first prototype for the AMF was a news search engine that clustered similar articles together, to help researchers identify when they already knew enough about a story.

We went on to develop a more sophisticated prototype, with a more interesting UI, and we are now building out our MVP which will use some machine learning techniques to improve relevancy and article similarity detection. We will work closely with the AMF to curate sources particularly relevant to them.

News services for businesses

We have also built a news search product that can be tailored to any subject area and is quick and easy to use. This will appeal particularly to organizations who want a lightweight straightforward way to keep up with news trends and hot topics.

Instant news – The Daily Snap

We then realised that ordinary people want to keep up with the news and are just as frustrated as the professional researchers. People want to know what is going on without spending too much time reading, but the level of trust in social media to provide quality news has plummeted. The problem with social media as a news source is twofold – on the one hand, free-to-use services need advertising revenue, and so what you see is ultimately what the “advertisers” want you to see. (In old media days, advertisers were usually large retailers and corporations because TV, radio, and print media buying was a convoluted process. Now anyone from anywhere in the world can pay a social media company to promote anything at all – even if they are Macedonian teenagers).

The second problem is that social media is a huge time suck. You might just want to glance at the headlines, but once you open up your social media app, it is almost impossible not to spend longer wandering around than you intended. No one wants to be left out when everyone else is talking about a hot news story, but no one wants to lose hours of their life to trivia either. This is why we created The Daily Snap. It is “instant news” – five headlines in your email inbox, so you can keep up with what’s going on in as little time as possible.

The Daily Snap will help us understand how people interact with their daily news and will help us develop our main product – a personalized, ad free, data secure, privacy respecting, high quality news service.

It has been a lot of fun diving into dataset classification for machine learning. My taxonomy skills have certainly proved extremely useful in helping us categorize articles and I will write more about the semantic aspects of our technology and our fantastic team in a future post.

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Information visualisation

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Estimated reading time 3–4 minutes

I heard a talk by Ben Shneiderman about information visualisation yesterday for the Cambridge Usability Professionals Group. (It was ironic that I had a “locational usability” problem and was almost late, having made the novice error of trying to find Microsoft Research in the William Gates Building – which is indeed named after Microsoft’s Bill Gates foundation – but Microsoft Research in Cambridge was set up by Roger Needham, so it is in his building!)

The talk itself was very easy to follow with lively demonstrations of a number of visualisation tools. Shneiderman was very careful to point out that you need to have a good question and good data to get good results from information visualisation, and that it is no panacea, but when it works, it is fantastically powerful. One of the key strengths is that it makes it easy to spot outliers or anomalies in huge masses of data, particularly when there is a general underlying correlation. It is almost impossible to detect trends in a big spreadsheet full or numbers, but convert that into a visual form and the trends leap out. This means that you can see at a glance things like which companies’ stocks are rising when all the others are falling. Of course, graphs are nothing new, but the range of analytical tools that are now available mean you can quickly pick out things like spikes and shapes in your data in a way that would have been painstaking previously. There are also very important applications in medical research and diagnosis, as the ability to track which order certain events happen, helps researchers establish whether one condition causes another and could even be used to generate personal health alerts.

I liked the smart-money style treemaps (although the choice of red-green can’t be great for anyone who is colourblind), but I found the marumushi newsmap fun but not much more informative than traditional newspapers, mainly because the newsmap crams in more words than I can take in. Newspapers are really pretty good at writing headlines that work, and you can usually see at a glance what today’s top story is anyway – it’s the one in big letters at the top! However, if you need an aggregation of global news for international comparison, the newsmap does give you quick access to a lot of international sources all together.**

One of the great pleasures of these events is getting to talk to other people who are there and I met a fascinating researcher who had been monitoring importance of stories by keyword frequency, showing that when something happens you get a burst of news activity around the relevant keywords, a ripple effect, and then it dies away. By looking at those patterns you can produce a measure of the impact of different events.

**Update: Rayogram gives you images of actual newspaper front pages, with some options for sorting.
Creative Review – interesting post on tube maps.